Pay It Forward with A Book


 
A conscious gift can be many different things. I especially love the ones that are thoughtful – meaningful for the person receiving it, but also good for the planet. But there is nothing I love to give more than giving books to children. Of course, I firstly gift books to my own son – last year we even created our own tradition: children’s books as an advent calendar – and to my friends’ children. But I’ve also made a tradition of donating books to children in need, through a charity or organisation.

For a couple of years I have been donating locally to “Copacul cu fapte bune” (throughout the year, not just for Christmas) and although you can contribute different things, from clothes to toys and food, I am very particular about books. Everybody thinks first of the daily essentials, and with good reason, but that’s also exactly why I choose to give books. Words can change a person’s life, especially a child’s, especially a poor child’s life. When I think of how much I love books, of how much books have meant to me and how much my little boy loves reading him stories every night, it breaks my heart knowing that there are children who do not have a single book at home. Did you know that a child from a poor family hears three times fewer words than other more fortunate children, than your child, for example? And that in books there are three times more words than in a usual conversation? So this year I’ve started to donate to this association for early education. I believe that paying it forward with a book is (without any false modesty) what doing good is about – isn’t that what December is about anyway?

Today we celebrate St. Nicholas, a Romanian tradition very dear to me. The Romanian folklore depicts Saint Nicholas as a white bearded old man riding on a white horse. Whenever he shakes his beard, snow starts falling and people say: “Here he is, Saint Nicholas is getting younger again!” It is said that the snow that falls on this day brings abundant crops in the year to come and good luck. It also marks the beginning of winter.

Saint Nicholas is also the protector of the sailors (a picture of St. Nicholas placed in a pocket or in a wallet will make any trip useful and beneficial) and of those unfairly punished. He brings little surprises for kids and help to those who ask for it. The custom is that on the night of December 5th the children leave their boots, cleaned and nicely polished, on the windowsill or by the entry door, waiting for Saint Nicholas’ visit. The next morning, on the 6th, children who have been good find candy, fruit and small gifts in their boots and children who have misbehaved find a rod as an impulse to improve themselves. The rod was actually an apple twig which had to be put in the water and if it blossomed until Christmas, that was a sign that St. Nicholas had forgiven the child who had been bad. Whether they have been good or bad, I wish every child in the world found a book in their boots this morning.

photo: My son is leafing through one of the most beautiful illustrated books, “Shackleton’s Journey”, another incursion into William Grill’s magical universe | the other ones are “Jumping Penguins & Crying Crocodiles”, by Vesse Goossens, with illustrations by Marije Tolman, and Lev Tolstoi’s “Fables”, a 1990 edition that used to be mine

Posted by classiq in Beauty & Beautiful Living, Books, Christmas time | | Leave a comment

December Playlist

If on a Winter’s Night…


 
I am someone who always prefers a non-Christmas Christmas movie over a traditional one. You know the kind? Those that are seasonably appropriate but inspiringly askew? So it should not come as a surprise that I am fretting the intake of Christmas carols boasting of the holiday cheer and saccharine sentiment throughout the month of December.

It’s not that I am too categorical – I sing “Jingle Bells” and “Moș Crãciun cu plete dalbe” (a Romanian Christmas carol) with my son every night (he just loves a catchy tune) and I will even put up with one or two traditional holiday songs now and then. But too much is just too much. It’s hard enough for me to comprehend how it is that the city has been decked for Christmas since the beginning of November (seemingly, it happens earlier and earlier every year). What is the rush? Let’s try to live in the moment, shall we?
 

Sting photographed by Tony Molina | “If on a Winter’s Night…”

 
So, if you are like me and looking for an antidote to the regular holiday tune, I have put together a playlist with what I have been listening to and plan to listen for the entire month. Just one of them is a thematic song, but a different kind thereof, as you can read below where Sting explains the inspiration for his album, “If on a Winter’s Night…” And if I am to recommend an entire collection of winter-themed songs, that same album is my wholehearted choice. Here is what the musician says about it:

“Like many people, I have an ambivalent attitude towards the celebration of Christmas. For many, it is a period of intense loneliness and alienation. I intentionally avoided the jolly, almost triumphalist, strain in many of the Christian carols. I make a musical reference to “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen” only as a dramatic counterpoint to the words in “Soul Cake”, for example. This was a song sung at Halloween by children who go from door to door asking for pennies and “soul cakes” (the latter not originally intended for the living). I was also keen to avoid the domestic cosines of many of the secular songs, recognizing that, for many, winter is a time of darkness and introspection.

Likewise, I was attracted to Robert Louis Stevenson’s poem “Christmas at Sea” because it describes so well the powerful gravitational pull of home that Christmas exits on the traveller. […]

It would have seemed strange not to make reference at least to Schubert’s great song cycle Winterreise, his masterly meditation on the season, and one of the inspirations for the present collection.

Walking amid the snows of winter, or sitting entranced in a darkened room gazing at the firelight, usually evokes in me a mood of reflection, a mood that can be at times philosophical, at others wildly irrational; I find myself haunted by memories. For winter is the season of ghosts, and ghosts, if they can be said to reside anywhere, reside here in this season of frosts and in this long hours of darkness. We must treat with them calmly and civilly, before the snows melt and the cycle of the seasons begins once more.”

Sting photographed by Tony Molina | “If on a Winter’s Night…”

 
My December playlist ranges from my favourite song from the aforementioned album, to one of the best closing songs in film (“Just Like Honey”, by The Jesus and Mary Chain, from the Lost in Translation soundtrack – if you aren’t familiar with my series where some of my favourite creatives and cinephiles share their favourite movie experience, you can check it out here), the one and only Charles Aznavour and, as always, Bruce Springsteen. Tune into my playlist below on Spotify, or, if you are not on Spotify, you can listen to each song on YouTube by following the respective links as follows.
 

1. Soul Cake, Sting / 2. Just Like Honey, The Jesus and Mary Chain / 3. Water of Love, Dire Straits /
4. Free Fallin’, John Mayer / 5. Tweeter and the Monkey Man, The Traveling Wilburys / 6. There Is
A Light That Never Goes Out
, The Smiths / 7. Skyfall, Adele / 8. Hate to See You Go, The Rolling Stones /
9. Anyway the Wind Blows, Eric Clapton and JJ Cale / 10. Going Back Home, Wilko Johnson and Roger Daltrey / 11. Lights of Taormina, Mark Knopfler / 12. Radio Nowhere, Bruce Springsteen / 13. What
Have I Done
, Jimmy Rogers / 14. Buckets of Rain, Bob Dylan / 15. Downtown Train, Tom Waits /
16. Smells Like Teen Spirit, Patti Smith / 17. Layla, Eric Clapton ft. Derek and The Dominoes / 18.
Emmenez-Moi, Charles Aznavour / 19. Pictures of You, The Cure / 20. Hey, Tonight,
Creedence Clearwater Revival

 

 

Posted by classiq in Crafts & Culture | | Leave a comment

Favourite Film: Alice in the Cities

“Alice in the Cities” (1974) | Westdeutscher Rundfunk (WDR), Filmverlag der Autoren

 

Some of my favourite creatives and cinephiles share a favourite movie experience:
the film that left a mark on them, that changed them, that influenced them
personally, creatively or both.

 

Film: Alice in den Städten (Alice in the Cities), 1974
Directed by Wim Wenders
Written by Wim Wenders and Veith von Fürstenberg
Starring Yella Rottländer, Rüdiger Vogler, Lisa Kreuzer

 

Words by: Georgina Guthrie

 
I don’t know why I chose to go to university on the Welsh coast. Perhaps I was seduced by the idea of studying by a beach. Or maybe I was drunk when I made my selection.

The university was so far away that I didn’t even get a chance to see it until I arrived. Predictably, the six-hour journey up there with my parents was grim: the latter half took us along narrow roads that nauseatingly twisted through slate-grey mountains, their tops obscured by heavy rain clouds. It drizzled relentlessly, and my mum and stepdad bickered the entire way.

When the car finally came to a crunching halt, the reality of my decision closed around me, thick and impenetrable as the cold November fog. I’d left my friends and the city behind and traded it all in for a grubby little seaside town. Arcades on the promenade, peeling fried chicken shops, wet sand and grey sea. Who chooses a university without having visited it first? An idiot, that’s who.

Eventually, I settled in. I met people, went to lectures and found the best pubs. But I missed city life. The town was dull and uninviting. The locals regarded the students with mistrust at best, but malice more often than not. A smarter person would’ve dropped out and moved to a different town. But I was not a smart person.

With no telly, very little to do in town and not much money anyway, I started filling my spare time with movies, which I borrowed free from the university video library. I devoured them. I swiftly moved from horror and exploitation movies to American indies and eventually on to ‘art house’ cinema, beginning with Wim Wenders’ Alice in the Cities – a film I chose purely because of its romantic title.

For those unacquainted, it’s a stripped-back road movie about a German journalist and a young girl left in his care who set off on a journey to reunite her with her grandparents. Much of the film’s success lies in its emotional warmth and gentle plot: instead of fraught drama and a comic clash between the odd couple, there’s bemused frustration and an ending that’s hopeful, yet tinged with existential angst.

Philip, the journalist, is alienated in America. Something about the vast landscape, mindless consumerism and ubiquitous advertising leaves him in a psychological gloom. And though he can’t connect to Alice, who slips into US culture like a duck into water, her presence eventually draws him out of himself. Together, they meander through the landscape looking for her family.

The simple plot is buoyed by the charming, naturalistic performance of its two leads, while the gorgeous photography of cinematographer Robby Müller fills the screen with what would go on to become enduring images of Americana: neon motel signs glowing in the dusk, Coca-Cola adverts and diners with jukeboxes. The carbon-copy cafes and places of transit – hotel rooms, bus stations and airports – looked very different from where I was living, but I related to Alice and Philip’s inability to connect with their environment, and the malaise that arises from this sense of disconnect.

The film’s closing image resonated with me most. Philip and Alice take the train to Munich. Alice switches her radio off, Philip puts down his paper and they gaze out the window at the landscape speeding by. Neither character has really learned anything from their experience, nor have they learned much about each other. All that’s happened is the angst has lifted a little, and there’s a new, albeit indefinite, feeling of freedom and purpose.

“Alice in the Cities” opened up a new way of viewing films for me. It provided a stark contrast to traditional American movies with its meandering plot and inconclusive ending. It also showed me that films could be rich and varied without being flashy or dramatic. Most of all, “Alice in the Cities” helped me realise that some people never really feel rooted, and that doesn’t have to be a terrible or permanent thing so long as you find something that brings you out of yourself. And that something could just be a film.
 

Georgina is a Bristol-born freelance writer currently living in Toulouse, France.
She’s written on film and travel for Time Out, Little White Lies, Shelf Heroes,
Beneficial Shock! and others. She loves ’70s American cinema and has a penchant
for a good jump scare. Find her on Twitter as @GuthrieGeorgina.

 

Read the previous Favourite Film stories here.

 

Posted by classiq in Favourite film, Film | | Leave a comment

It’s Cold Outside: The Style of Llewyn Davis

Oscar Isaac in “Inside Llewyn Davis”, 2013 (CBS Films/StudioCanal)

 
On the backdrop of a grey winter sky and blackening slush, a stiff and uncomfortable Bob Dylan is trudging down Jones Street of Greenwich Village astride his then-girlfriend Suze Rotolo. He is venturing out into the cold squinting against a harsh wind without hat or scarf, shrugging his shoulders and withdrawing his neck into a thin mustard suede jacket, with his hands thrust into the pockets of his blue jeans for warmth, while he and Rotolo are curving towards each other in search of the same much sought after warmth. This image, shot by Don Hunstein, is the cover of the musician’s “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan” album, released in 1963, one of the most recognizable album covers of all time. Bob Dylan’s singularity of impact throughout the decades has to do not only with his music, but with his image, too. And his look on this album cover is part of that laid-back, unassuming, totally individual, with a thrift store quality image that helped define the visual tone of the music scene in downtown New York during the 1960s, a look that soon spread across America.
 

Oscar Isaac in “Inside Llewyn Davis”, 2013 (CBS Films/StudioCanal)

 
“Inside Llewyn Davis” (2013), written and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen, is set in the biting winter of 1961. Everything is grey, windswept and bleak. The story, which lasts no more than a few days, takes place in New York, with a brief excursion to Chicago, on the pre-Dylan Greenwich Village folk music scene. Bruno Delbonnel, the cinematographer, admits that that moody Bob Dylan album cover photo influenced the look and overall palette of the movie about the misadventures of a beatnik in the Greenwich Village of 1961. The film however, although not a biopic, drew on certain aspects of another folk singer, Dave Van Ronk, according to the Coen brothers in an interview with Terry Gross, “probably the biggest person on the scene in 1961 in the folk revival in Greenwich Village, the biggest person on the scene until Bob Dylan showed up”.

Oscar Isaac’s Llewyn Davis paces the frosty city streets in a caramel corduroy jacket, and, for want of a coat, a knitted scarf looped and knotted around his neck, tan chukka boots and grey trousers. He is a struggling folk singer who can not catch a break. He is very good, but not great. And his clothes, which he never changes, manage to convey the desperate nature of his character. It’s winter, but he doesn’t have a coat, his jacket has slouched pockets to make him look worn out – most of the character’s clothes were handmade by Mary Zophres, the costume designer, and her crew – and his weathered shoes were found in a box from an old ad.

Downtown New York of the period, where folk music was sneaking its way through the epicenter of New York’s 1960s counterculture movement, “was more about a certain authenticity, so we wanted a limited palette. Plus, the film takes place in the winter, and artists living downtown didn’t have as much to work with, especially in terms of clothes and money. We wanted to convey that it was a difficult time for Llewyn, a poor folk singer trying to make it,” Zophres said.
 

Oscar Isaac in “Inside Llewyn Davis”, 2013 (CBS Films/StudioCanal)

 
Just looking at Llewyn’s clothes you feel his vulnerability and despair, and that is the power of costume design, helping the actor get into character, for whomever still doubted it. And maybe you have never been that cold and miserable in the dead of winter, but that feeling of being just barely not good enough, that, I guess, is something we all can relate to or fear at one point or another in our lives. There is something universal about the character of Llewyn Davis and his style and that’s what has stuck with me.
 

Oscar Isaac in “Inside Llewyn Davis”, 2013 (CBS Films/StudioCanal)

 
But there is something else I appreciate about the style in “Inside Llewyn Davis”. That it feels current, decidedly 2010s. It is this exact element that I try to find in the movies of previous decades, fashion-wise: a look that can be easily replicated nowadays, maybe with only few changes. These are the classics.
 

Left: “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan” album cover photographed by Don Hunstein
Right: “Inside Llewyn Davis” film poster (CBS Films/StudioCanal)

sources: interviews with costume designer Mary Zophres for Boston Globe, The Hollywood Reporter; Terry Gross’ Fresh Air podcast with the Coen Brothers

Posted by classiq in Style in film | | Leave a comment

Editorial: Every Day Is Opening Night

Gena Rowlands in ”Opening Night” (1977) | Faces Distribution

 

The Editorial: thoughts, short stories
or essays about the world of cinema


 
It is one of the best films about an actor’s life and work. There have been other great movies about the world of theater or film – All about Eve (1950), A Star Is Born (1954), Birdman (2014) – but John Cassavetes’ Opening Night (1977) lays bare the drama of an actor and the all-consuming act of acting like no other.

Myrtle Gordon (superbly played by Gena Rowlands) is a star actress in the prime of life, performing in out-of-town previews of a new play in which, for the first time, she will play an older woman. Ben Gazzara plays the director, Joan Blondell is the playwright, and Cassavetes himself plays the leading man. Myrtle wreaks psychodramatic improvisations upon the text, she gets drunk, chain-smokes, sows chaos among her colleagues because nobody knows why she acts this way. You, the viewer, do not easily identify with Myrtle either and that’s exactly what Cassavetes wanted to prevent. Cassavetes’ films are about life, emotions, feelings. But life is not simple. This is a harrowing and profound film that makes you think. “You have to fight knowing, because once you know something, it’s hard to be open and creative; it’s a form of passivity – something to guard against,” the director said.

The entire film has a loose, fluid shooting style, it’s like you can not really tell whether what you see is Cassavetes and the actors backstage rehearsing and improvising or the actual movie – this was a director who always took the risk of being an original. But in the last scene, when Myrtle comes in late, drunk, for the opening night of the play, Cassavetes and all his players appear to have genuinely improvised it (something the filmmaker often did), in front of a theatre full of extras playing the audience. It is a brilliant all-the-world’s-a-stage effect.

Myrtle is alone, she’s on her own, she has no family, no responsibility than her own, and is in desperate fear of losing the vulnerability she feels she needs as an actress. That’s her whole life, being an actress. “I have no family, no kids. This is my life. This is it for me,” she says desperately at one point. And she goes to extreme lengths to keep that vulnerability. And she hangs on to it, she hangs onto her ideas. She knows that the only measure of her success, and of her life, is what she can create and express on stage. And that if she can not do that, she’s lost. She’s very honest to herself, she doesn’t go along with the crowd, she doesn’t want to accept someone else’s point of view, she wants to find her own answers. And she goes after them unapologetically. That she succeeds in the end, that she redeems her role, is very moving and hopeful. “An actor is a very loyal person to life, a person who fights against all odds to make something work and doesn’t want to be fed a lot of lies,” said John Cassavetes. I think every person should apply this to their own life. The only measure of someone’s success is being authentic and true to oneself.

Posted by classiq in Editorial, Film | | Leave a comment